No violence warning this week? So that means it’ll be a nice, relaxing affair, right? Suuuuuuuuuuuuure it will…
Things kick off with Gus, Mike, and Jesse loitering in a field, but their loitering is short-lived, as a candy apple red airplane flies down and waits for them to embark. Gus and Mike do so without hesitation. Jesse…? Not so much. He does indeed step aboard, however, and after Mike closes the door, they’re off the ground and into the wild blue yonder. You can practically hear Jesse’s jangling nerves, which is no doubt why Gus offers him four words delivered quietly but with certainty: “You can do this.” What are we to make of the look on Mike’s face? Is he less confident of Jesse, or does he perhaps think the whole thing is a bad idea? We shall see…
“You have reached Walter White. At the tone, please state your name, number, and the reason for your call. Thank you.” No, thank you, Walt…but where the hell are you? Not with your wife and child, anyway, that’s for sure. As a result, he’s not there to see Junior’s face when Skyler presents him with his birthday present…which, all things being equal, Skyler probably wishes she’d missed, too. Clearly, her efforts to pick out a car that was actually in a price range that they could afford have only served to remind him of the car that his dad bought him that he wasn’t allowed to keep. You can kind of understand his reaction, but you can see the hurt it’s caused Skyler, and it’s pretty depressing, actually.
Saul Goodman looks nervous and antsy. We’ve seen him look like this when he’s getting twitchy about Gus or Mike, but why would Ted Beneke inspire such a reaction? Possibly because he’s been tasked with selling an incredibly ridiculous story: that the monetary holdings of Ted’s late great aunt from Luxembourg, who died eight years ago, are now his. Of course, this is a relative Ted’s been completely unaware of up to this point – possibly (but not definitely) because she doesn’t actually exist…although if this is Skyler’s plan, I have to believe she’s done the research and can at least back up the genealogy – but that doesn’t stop him from getting a big, fat smile on his face when he hears how much money he’s come into. Will he grow suspicious of the timing? We’ll see…
Oh, man, not another intense-violence warning! Which of Gus’s friends, acquaintances, and/or employees is getting killed this week?
I don’t mean that as a spoiler. Indeed, when I wrote that sentence, I didn’t know whether I was being facetious or not. I was just playing the odds, baby…and when the first thing we saw this week after the aforementioned warning was a broken pair of glasses and droplets of blood falling onto a hardwood floor and the toe of a shoe, you’ll forgive me if I felt relatively confident that those odds were in my favor. As it turned out, I was right: someone in Gus’s camp did bite the dust. It just wasn’t anyone we particularly cared about. But we’ll get to that in a minute.
Hank is positively giddy at the thought of heading over to Los Pollos Hermanos to pick up the tracking device and see where Gus has been driving for the past week…so giddy, in fact, that he’s crooning Survivor’s signature hit pretty much all the way to the restaurant. Walt, however, is more than a little bit antsy about being on the premises, refusing even to step inside the establishment, telling Hank, “We’ll grab something from the drive-thru.” When they get back to the house and check the device’s history, however, Hank is pissed at the “chicken-slinging son of a bitch,” dismissing Walt’s suggestion that maybe he might be innocent, declaring, “A guy this clean’s got to be dirty.”
Leaving Hank’s house, Walt runs into Gus’s right-hand man and makes the remarkably ballsy decision to call the cops on him right in front of him. Anyone think this is going to come back to bite Walt in the ass? Yeah, me, too. Then when Walt pulls up outside the SuperLab and gets into conversation with Jesse, he endeavors to make small talk, smoking cigarettes and talking “Ice Road Truckers,” though it’s clear the only thing he really wants to know is the status of Operation Fringdown. “Don’t you have enough cancer already?” snaps Jesse. “Look, I said I’d do it. I’ll do it.” “What does it matter?” asks Walt. “We’re both dead men, anyway.”
The fact that this week’s episode presented us with the same pre-game warning as the season premiere – “This program contains intense violence which may be unsuitable for some viewers. Viewer discretion is advised.” – should’ve served as a tip-off for just about everyone that there was no way we’d make it to the closing credits without getting some sort of “holy shit” moment, but, holy shit, what a moment. Hell, even without the violence, this was an intense episode all around.
We begin the proceedings with a flashback to Episode 3.8, which took place in the wake of the Cousins’ attack on Hank. What we didn’t see at the time, however, was Gus’s visit to see the Cousins’ uncle, Hector “Tio” Salamanca, and tell him of their fate, saying, “This is what comes of blood for blood, Hector.” And then we get a shot of the viscous red substance in question, floating through a swimming pool. If you’re like me, you were already thinking, “Oh, this is gonna be good,” and if so, then surely you weren’t disappointed by episode’s end.
Hey, what do you know? “Breaking Bad” finally takes time to acknowledge that Walt is still being treated for cancer. This scene really underlined how much he’s changed since his initial diagnosis, however. So Walt’s living his life as if he’s in charge, huh? Yeah, he talks big, instantly dismissing the fears and concerns of the poor bastard who’s sharing the waiting area with him, but the second we see him back in his usual environment, he looks completely lost and mostly hopeless…which is, at least momentarily, a look he shares with Gus when the latter gets a phone call to pop ’round the ABQ police department. With Walt, though, I have to wonder if he got a report on a cancer that he wasn’t expected. But we’ll get back to that.
Not being a video game aficionado, I actually had to Google “Rage” to see if it was a real game or something that was created for the show, because it seemed like it could go either way. Indeed, it is a real game, and I have to suspect that there are a lot of people over at id Software giddy at its use within an episode of “Breaking Bad.” I also wonder if, in fact, they’ll manage to find a way to slip a facsimile of Gale Boetticher into some future sequel, given how Jesse found himself seeing Gale’s face as he shot at his onscreen targets. “Mission failed. Restart?” Jesse’s answer is a resounding yes. This bodes poorly, methinks…
Yep, Junior’s new car is going back, as was only inevitable once Skyler stepped into the situation, but just because she’s being sensible about the financial goings-on within the White house doesn’t mean that Walt has to like it. The combination of having to pay an $800 restocking fee for the vehicle and his general annoyance at Skyler telling him not to “tangle” with anyone leaves him so pissed off that he decides to take it for a rapid-fire test drive before returning it, but when he manages to fuck up the car in the middle of a goddamned parking lot, he decides to blow the vehicle to kingdom come. A hysterical scene, to be sure, but with some seriously dark undertones: he’s quite literally got money to burn at this point, and he doesn’t care how wasteful he is with his material possessions.
Fortunately, after a quick trip to Saul Goodman’s office, any major charges against Walt for his big bang have been whittled down to “misdemeanor trash burning, but we see a particularly nasty side of Walt at this point, snapping at Saul, “Just tell me it’s done.” Walt remains convinced that Gus wants him dead, even though Jesse’s told Saul that Gus needs him too much to kill him. Saul refuses to help hook Walt up with a hit man, however, explaining that A) anyone he knows also knows Mike, and B) hiring anyone he doesn’t know is risking someone who might not get the job done, and when it comes to Gus, “just winging that guy is not gonna ameliorate your situation. Not by a damned sight.” Saul’s recommendation: talk to Jesse, who’s the only other person besides Mike who’s actually been around Gus recently.
It’s deja vu all over again as we start this week’s episode once more in the back of a Los Pollos Hermanos van. Just because Mike took down the last dudes who tried to hijack a shipment, don’t think that’s scared off the cartel: they’ve gotten smarter, gassing out Gus’s guys and taking what they came for. The container of meth-laded chicken batter makes a return appearance later in the episode. First, though, it’s time to pop back in and see how our man Walt is doing after his drunken escapades at the end of last week’s episode.
After Walt’s wine-fueled eruption at dinner the night before, Skyler’s reflecting on Walt’s “I love you” message on the answering machine and realizing that the words were uttered more out of fear than anything else. He’s got a well-deserved hangover and claims limited recall on the previous evening’s goings-on, but she’s not going to let that stop her from getting some answers about the whole Gale situation. Moreover, she wonders if perhaps his outburst to Hank might not be some sort of subconscious cry for help. The mere idea that she sees him as unable to handle the situation infuriates him. “I am not in danger, Skyler,” he growls. “I am the danger.”
After he takes a quick shower to relax and, apparently, shave his head, Walt finds emerges to find Skyler gone, so he decides to head over to the car wash to take care of the final transition of ownership. The discussion between Walt and Bogdan felt a little heavy-handed, what with the unabashed parallel between being a boss at the car wash and being a boss in the meth operation (or, for that matter, in his own marriage), but the scene was worth it for two things: the nasty little comment by Bogdan to Walt about how “if you can’t be tough, you can always call your wife,” and the way Walt got his revenge by playing the hard-ass and not only refusing to let Bogdan keep the first dollar he ever earned from the car wash but, indeed, spitefully using it to buy a coke. That sucked…yet it was kind of awesome, too.
This week’s adventures of Walt and the gang kicked off like they were trying to emulate a classic “Starsky and Hutch” episode. I mean, seriously, all it was missing was the classic Lalo Schifrin theme song, and even then…well, maybe it’s just my imagination, but damned if it didn’t sound like they were trying to offer a little bit of a Schifrin vibe with the music that was playing behind Walt as he made his frantic phone call to Saul and the slightly less frantic follow-up to Skyler.
The beats were still rockin’ when we came back, but once Walt parked and popped into Los Pollos Hermanos, it was time to ratchet up the tension. Is Gus there? Is he watching Walt on the surveillance cameras? Is he going to try and slip out of his office, into his car, and away from harm? Or is Gus going to stay safely ensconced in the back of the restaurant and send a bunch of hired goons (hired goons?) to whack Walt? We don’t find out the score right away, thanks to the ear-damaged yet ever sarcastic Mike calling up and confirming Jesse’s safety…well, more or less, anyway. It’s a hilariously frustrating conversation for Walt, and it doesn’t really offer us much more in the way of clarification than the last moments of last week. Yes, Jesse’s with Mike, but where are they going? The lack of answers coupled with the additional news that he’s going to have to cook a batch of meth without his usual assistant finally sends Walt over the edge and behind the counter, only to learn that – well, what do you know? – Gus’s right-hand woman was telling the truth all along: he really wasn’t back there. Still, give Walt credit for having the cajones to bust back there and find out for himself.
So, seriously, what the hell is Mike going to do with Jesse? When we last left Jesse, he didn’t seem to care. Now, though, he’s a little more interested, which seems to bemuse Mike a bit. I’d be surprised if any of us really thought that the drive was going to end with Mike popping Jesse – I mean, Vince Gilligan might not be afraid to blow his viewers’ minds, but he’s not going to take out one of the show’s main characters a mere five episodes into this new season – but I did start theorizing what the situation might be, and after their first stop, I found myself wondering, “Is it possible that Mike’s seeing a bit of himself in Jesse?” It hadn’t occurred to me prior to when Mike started digging up the booty, but at the moment he told him how many more stops they had to make, I thought, “Maybe he’s working his way up to telling Jesse, ‘Look, I’ve killed people, too, and it never gets any easier.’” Jesse, however, just looked confused…and I’m sure I looked the same way when Mike blew my theory out of the water a few scenes later.
Tonight’s episode opened with a major shoot-‘em-up sequence, offering further proof that what other gunmen need a hail of gunfire to accomplish, Mike only requires one or two well-placed bullets. What can you say? Dude’s a badass, and now being in possession of a slightly damaged right ear doesn’t change that one bit. The only question left by this scene was, who was doing the shooting? Or am I already supposed to know that?
It’s 3:01 AM, and Skyler’s having a restless night’s sleep. Why? Is it because her mind is filled with ideas on how to take advantage of this new business situation in which she’s found herself? No, it’s because she’s so concerned about the web of lies that she’s involved in spinning and wants to be damned sure she can cover her ass at every turn. Take, for instance, the story she told Marie about how Walt made all of these ill-begotten gains through gambling: time to back that up with making Walt attend Gamblers Anonymous meetings and display a mastery of Blackjack. Unfortunately, in addition to his consistent refusal to concede that he’s wrong about anything ever, Walt seems to be getting a trifle annoyed with Skyler’s continual attempts to maintain the reigns of command…though in fairness, it’s hard to imagine anyone not getting annoyed with Skyler, giving how anal she’s being about following the incredible in-depth script she’s composed for the impending fake admission to Hank about Walt’s gambling and the buying of the car wash. Great scene in principle, but it went on so long, with Skyler getting so increasingly specific with her plan, that it’s hard to imagine anyone making it to the end without thinking at least once, “There’s no way everything’s going to go according to plan.” And it didn’t…though it wasn’t because of the script. (Again, a classic case of “Breaking Bad” zigging when any other show would’ve zagged.)
This episode might’ve been called “Open House,” but when it first began, it seemed as though it should’ve been called “Dead Man Walking,” so dour was Walt’s expression when he first entered the SuperLab. But then he poured himself a cup of coffee and found a smile…which, within moments, had turned into something between a frown and a snarl. Yep, Walt’s going through some emotional turmoil at the moment, unable to enjoy his “victory” over Gale because he’s convinced that a final battle between himself and Gus is inevitable, and the addition of security cameras which literally follow him wherever he goes in the lab…well, that’s just the cherry of on top of his seething sundae of hatred for his employer.
But that’s not what this episode is about. Not really, anyway. It’s much more about the two husband-and-wife relationships of the series – Walt & Skyler and Hank & Marie – and, to a lesser extent, poor Jesse, who’s never seemed quite so alone and adrift as he does this week.
Skyler wants to talk about the car wash. Walt doesn’t. Given her persistence to get him to come to the door in the first place, it’s fair to suspect that she would’ve shoved her way past him in annoyance eventually, but once she spotted his bruised eye, it’s notable that her first reaction was concern…not for what it might mean to her and the kids, but simply for Walt. Further confirmation that no matter what kind of ass Walt might be, she still loves and cares for him. Unfortunately, as far as Walt’s concerned, she cares a little too much, dismissing her suggestions to go to the police, then getting grouchy and accusing her of undue passive-aggression. Even when she makes him swear that he’ll go to the police if things get really, really bad, his response of “absolutely!” is utterly devoid of any ring of truth.
Tonight’s episode begins with a lesson for all casting directors: if you’re on the lookout for a grizzled-looking good ol’ boy who’s filled to the gills with folksy wisdom, you need look no further than Jim Beaver. You’ve seen him on “Deadwood” and “John from Cincinnati,” you’ve seen him on “Supernatural” and “Harper’s Island.” Accept no substitutes: Jim Beaver’s got what you need, and he delivers every time…and, yes, that includes tonight, when he played Lawson, an :::cough, cough::: independent businessman helping Walt to procure a handgun.
It’s pretty clear that most of what Walt knows about guns came from watching TV westerns, because every time he draws his weapon, he looks desperately like he’s trying to be the fastest gun in the west. Lawson offers up a lot of helpful advice, including a beautifully delivered line explaining why Walt should stick with a .38 special over an automatic: “If you can’t get it done with five, then you’re into spray-and-pray, in which case I wouldn’t count on another six sealing the deal.” Lawson tries to be the gun dealer with the heart of gold, recognizing Walt’s handicap as a marksman (“You’re gonna want to practice your draw…a lot“) even pointing out the merits of buying legally over illegally, but when Walt refuses to concede that the gun will be used for anything other than defense, he has little choice but to shrug and say, “I’m happy to take your money.” The next time we see Walt, it’s clear that he’s taken Lawson’s advice about practicing his draw to heart…as well he should’ve. You know, I think you have to wonder just how much of Lawson was on the pages of George Mastras’s script and how much was turned into gold simply by Beaver’s pitch-perfect delivery, but either way, Lawson = awesome.
Hey, everybody, Gale’s okay! Gee, I guess Jesse’s bullet missed him after all, so…
Oh. Never mind. It’s a flashback. But, hey, at least now we know how the superlab first came into being. And we also know the sad irony that Gale is directly responsible for Gus bringing Walt into the business in the first place. So obsessive was he with his concern about the quality of the meth he was making – more concerned, even, than Gus himself – that he simply couldn’t comprehend that Gus wouldn’t want to work with someone like that, even risking the possibility of talking himself out of a job by saying of Walt, “If he’s not (a professional), I don’t know what that makes me.”
Well, as it turns out, Gale, what is makes you is dead. But, then, I think we all pretty much knew that when Season 3 faded to black. Some of us just didn’t want to admit it.